long of a process has it been getting the product
ready to sell?
It has been nearly a year in the
works. Most of this time was spent tinkering around
to build just a few units for ourselves and family
and friends. Then it struck us – why not share this
with the whole world! We weren’t sure if anyone
would pay for this – perhaps it was just a crazy
dream. So in January we put together a simple website
with pictures and a description, and expected a
few people to find us. Kaboom! Thousands of people
flocked to the site. It was like that UPS commercial
from the dot com days – first one sale, then dozens,
then a flood. So now we are working around the clock
to deliver a consumer product.
There have been interesting challenges. We want
the product to look great in the kitchen. But after
all, it handles trash. So we’ve had to think creatively
about how to hide the dirt and make it easy to clean.
We’ve come up with lots of stainless steel components,
textured surfaces, and a very wide mouth to limit
spills. You can even hide NatureMill inside a standard
Another challenge has been getting to know our target
audience. The website has been very helpful in this
respect. We initially assumed demand would be mainly
from young, cyber-hip California tree-hugger types.
Turns out, demand is more from the east coast and
midwestern gardeners. The reason is that it is so
cold there in the winter that composting is very
inconvenient, and the shorter growing season makes
good compost a must. We’ve also seen strong demand
from Europe where composting is much more mainstream.
On your website I read you’re from San
Francisco. Is that where the company is based?
Yes, I am from San Francisco and this is where the
company is based. To summarize, San Francisco recently
began a curbside compost collection program. We
were very excited about it, but wanted more. We
wanted to keep our own compost for our gardens!
And we didn’t want to handle the raw material and
all its dripping, stinking mess. Our backyard compost
piles are inconvenient, especially in the rainy
months. The curbside collection bins start to smell
and need to be washed out. So we went to work on
“composting in place.”
Anyone who uses a compost crock regularly has (occasionally)
procrastinated taking it out. I did this and noticed
that the bottom of the container becomes warm. The
warmth comes from composting microorganisms hard
at work. Give them just a little oxygen, mixing,
drainage, and insulation, and they are very happy.
Is there a need to add activators to
get the process started or keep it going?
Compost microorganisms are already present in most
foods and even in the air. We include a few starter
packs (for free) just in case. You will never need
to buy activators. Once the process is started,
a population of microorganisms remain and thrive
in the machine even as you add new waste materials.
They are very hearty. It is important to not clean
the inside (reactor) chamber. You can clean the
hopper (the top section) and other visible surfaces
with a damp paper towel. You should also avoid highly
acidic food wastes such as citrus fruits.
Tell me more about the air filtration
system that eliminates any odors. How often do these
filters need to be changed and what is the cost
of replacement filters?
You will have to change the filter roughly once
per year, depending on actual usage. You can replace
the carbon yourself for about $1 if you are willing
to make a trip to the pet store and spend a few
minutes and make a little mess. We will also sell
replacement filters. We have not priced the filters
yet but we expect them to be very cheap.
Your website mentions a microchip that
precisely controls temperature, air flow, moisture,
and mixing to accelerate the process from a year
down to just a few weeks. One of the questions we
received was if the unit could be kept on a patio
where the temperature can get cold in the winter?
The machine should be fine in a patio, even if it’s
cold. Compost microorganisms generate their own
heat. Try to keep the lid closed as much as possible,
and keep the unit out of the wind and weather.
Your website states that "the natural
decomposition process (composting) produces water
as a byproduct. Most of the water evaporates. Some
of it condenses and collects in a catch basin. Empty
the basin periodically and use it on your plants
or pour it down the kitchen sink." How often
do you need to empty the basin? Will the unit shut
off if it is not emptied?
That depends on a number of factors such as how
wet is your waste. Drippy, over-ripe tomatoes or
melon will produce much water, whereas paper and
coffee grounds will not. The humidity also plays
a role. Under most conditions, there is hardly any
water to remove. Even in the worst case, the water
byproduct will never overflow.
How long until you have a full tray
of compost? - This is a hard question because it
depends on what they put in it. But can you tell
us in general terms?
Yes, this depends on what you put in. You will have
a fresh batch of compost on a regular schedule every
2 or 3 weeks. A light will come on to alert you.
You can continue to add fresh waste any time, any
day. The amount of finished compost is proportional
to how much you put in. Roughly 70% of the food
waste disappears (it is consumed by the compost
microorganisms or evaporates) so you are left with
30% of whatever you put in.
When do you expect to start shipping
The unit will be ready for shipping in mid 2004.
This is clearly stated on the “how to buy”
page of the website. We would love to ship sooner,
and we’d love to give a more precise date,
but let me explain why we can’t: This is a
first-of-its-kind product. We want to test every
aspect of it before we put our name on it. We are
very proud of our product and quality comes first.
Many new-tech companies release products prematurely
with quality problems because management set an
arbitrary and unrealistic schedule. Not us. Thanks
for being patient! I can assure you it’s worth
Well, thank you for the interview. One
last question: What does the future hold for your
company and this product? What are your hopes, dreams
and overall plans for the future?
Our dream is to see the entire world composting.
It’s our way of empowering regular folks to
help save the planet. The gardening community has
been very eager, and over time we want to make the
product sensible enough for non-gardeners to enjoy.
That translates into a strategy of more products,
more user-friendly and automated, and international
distribution. We’d like to involve local governments
too – they have the most to gain financially
due to skyrocketing costs of their landfill operations.
We would like to work on a low cost version of the
product for the developing-world – their growing
populations have some of the most challenging landfill
Thanks to everyone who contributed a question. If
you would like to see future articles on the Kitchen
Composter and have a question or comment please
to us! (Don't forget to mention this article
or Kitchen Composter in your message) - For more
information make sure you check out their web site
- Happy Composting! -